Plant & Animal Symbolism in Mexican Culture
It‘s no secret that Mexico has one of the most vibrant cultures in the world. Between the iconic jewelry styles, delicious food, and influential visual art, there might not be a culture in the world with more colorful and impactful imagery.
While themes run the gamut throughout all of these creations, one thing remains a constant: an elegant simplicity that’s reminiscent of the natural world.
Be it the animals that wander the Mexican countryside, the one-of-a-kind natural landscape, or the complex native cultures that hail from Mexico, the natural world holds a large place in the hearts and minds of everyday Mexicans. It is truly no wonder that Mexican art and culture is teeming with symbolism grounded in the natural world.
Read on to learn about how the natural world, culture, and artistic creations all come together.
The origins of plant and animal symbolism in Mexican culture
It’s been said that for as long as there has been humans, there has been art.
Mexico is home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations and some of the oldest known examples of rock paintings in the world. This includes rock paintings in Baja, Mexico dating back 7,500 years and thought to be the oldest of such art ever found in North America.
Early Pre-Columbian Mexican cultures were population centers and also were very involved in the creation of artistic works. While art in these times was used more for religious or political reasons, it were often expressed through the natural and spiritual world.
Unlike European art from a similar period, Mexican and Mesoamerican art is based much more of space, time, and the natural world. While European art focused more of the human body and experience, art from Mexico focused more on the natural world. This elicits a visceral and naturalistic feeling for the audience. It also works to link together the spiritual and the natural in a way that’s unique to Mexican culture and reverberates to this day.
What do animals and nature represent in Mexican culture and jewelry?
Given the wide range of meanings for different elements of the natural world, there is no one meaning for the natural world represented in art.
A better way to think about the natural world in Mexican art is what it says about Mexican culture at large. Unlike many other countries, modern Mexico is still very much in touch with the roots of its native people. While the Spanish colonizers altered the course of Mexican society, the way in which Mexican art and culture interacts with the natural world holds true to this day.
For instance, Frida Kahlo, likely Mexico’s most iconic Artist, regularly used the natural world in her work. Not only did this serve as a tasteful palette and visual device for Frida to work within, but it also borrowed from inidigenous motifs to symbolize the pain and suffering she was going through.
So while the natural world may not have a distinct meaning, it is commonly used as a device that artists, jewelry makers, and craftspeople use to get across their message.
5 animals and plants important to Mexican culture
Given the holistic nature of how Mexican artists and artisans integrate animals into their art, the number of examples of animals in Mexican art is countless. There is likely not a creature you can think of that hasn’t been used in some way!
Still, there are many common animals that are used and hold particularly strong meaning for Mexican artists. Read on to learn about some of our favorites (and some jewelry inspired by the meaning and beauty of these creatures and plant life).
A god of the Mayan underworld, Jaguars first appeared in Mexican art around 1200 BC. Jaguars symbolize power, confidence, and sensuality and are known for their exceptional beauty, planning, and perception. These animals are known as apex predators in the wild, and this spirit continues in their use in artistic works.
Fish are a symbol of spirituality not only in Mexico, but in the world over. For instance, many religions use fish imagery as a key symbolic figure. Fish represent life, motion, and spiritual growth due to their wandering nature and free spirit. In Mexico, they are known to represent a youthful energy, as well as creativity and independence.
A symbol of positivity and hopefulness, hummingbirds hold a special place in Mexican culture. They often represent quickness and light. The symbolism surrounding the hummingbird also holds a more nuanced, heavy meaning at times. Hummingbirds are often seen as a messenger between the human and spiritual world. Also, Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun and war, is often represented as a hummingbird.
Much like fish, trees are held dear to many cultures as an important spiritual symbol. In Mexico, the tree is a symbol for life and has been since Mayan times. It’s also thought to represent fertility and abundance. In Central Mexico, many artisans craft clay Tree of Life sculptures to represent the Biblical story of creation and Tree of Life.
Flowers are used often in creative work all over the world, and that holds true in Mexico. All the way back to Pre-Columbian times, flowers were used as a way for artists to show and represent the natural progression and duality of life. It most often symbolized both the beauty and magnificence of creation and birth, to the harsh realities of death and destruction.
Get in touch with your wild side
At Mexican Silver Store, we offer a beautiful array of animal-inspired jewelry. Our items are all authentically crafted by Taxco artisans and are inspired by the pure beauty and cultural heritage of Mexico.